I have no idea how many years its been since I spent Christmas Eve sober! While I countdown the last fews days of my year without beer, here are some suggestions from the Guardian of beers you may want to try this Christmas.
The Guardian’s panel: Fiona Beckett is the Guardian’s wine writer. Pete Brown is a writer, blogger and all-round beer expert. He has a new book out,Shakespeare’s Local (Pan Macmillan, £16.99). Jonny Heyes runs the Manchester bars Port Street Beer House, Common and the Beagle. Charlie McVeigh owns the Draft House bar group, which will be celebrating Australia Day throughout January. Simon Bartlett and Jonny Mills brew very good beer at the Bristol Beer Factory, as does Stuart Ross at Huddersfield’s mighty Magic Rock Brewing.
1. The lager
Supermarket buy: Nils Oscar, God (Waitrose, £1.69). An unusually fresh, full-bodied, long-matured Swedish lager. Foster’s this ain’t.
Look out for: McVeigh and Brown plump for British craft brewery Windsor & Eton‘s Republika. “It knocks spots off some notable German imports,” enthuses Brown. Camden Town Brewery‘s lighter, Munich-style Helles also received two votes.
2. The session beer
Supermarket buy: Dead Pony Club (Sainsbury, £1.69). Only 3.8% but, like all Brewdog beers, it packs a hoppy, citrussy, ripe tropical fruit punch.
Look out for: Dark Star‘s 3.8% Hophead is popular with the panel, and Kernel‘s miraculous Table Beer – just 3%! – must get a mention. Away from such hop-forward ales, McVeigh favours A Head In A Hat‘s 3.8% Topper stout: “Brewed by Herne Hill beer historian, Peter Haydon, based on a Victorian recipe. Incredibly full-bodied and rich – a wonder-beer.”
3. The ABV no object beer
Supermarket buy: Sierra Nevada‘s Torpedo (Tesco, £2.18). This 7.2% “extra IPA” is aptly named. It is a sleek missile of a beer with an explosive hop payload. Toffee? Grapefruit? Sherbet flavours? You’ll find them all here, and more.
Look out for: Russian River‘s 8% Pliny The Elder; Kernel’s 10.2% “knockout” Imperial Brown Stout; and Brewdog’s notorious 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin (McVeigh: “I was slightly dreading this. But, lo, it is a warming Christmassy drink.”) were all mentioned, with Heyes hailing Dark Star’s 10.2% Imperial Stout: “Thick, oily, dark and robust, full of roasted flavours and spice. Perfect for the festive season.”
4. The wheat beer
Supermarket buy: Weihenstephan Hefe Weissbier (Sainsbury, £2.05). Brewed since 1040, this cloudy Bavarian Hefe is sehr gut: markedly light and fresh, full of yeasty, acidic, banana bread flavours, with a gentle spicy backdraft.
Look out for: Both Brown and Heyes love Camden Town’s Wheat, a genuine Hefe brewed with a German yeast strain. Meanwhile, down at the Draft Houses, everyone is drinking Erdinger Schneeweisse: “Rich, coppery, it’s our Christmas wheat of choice.”
5. The classic English bitter
Supermarket buy: Black Sheep (Sainsbury, £1.99). Beautifully balanced: its dark treacle and baked fruit flavours ending in a crisply bitter lick, this is a true Yorkshire classic.
Look out for: Brown opts for Salopian Brewery‘s Darwin’s Origin and McVeigh for Adnams Best (“dry-hopped before it became fashionable”). Heyes admires Fuller’s Extra Special Bitter: “A beer that launched a new brewing style, particularly in the US. Full of fruity malt with just enough grassy herbal hop balance. A special beer, widely available.”
6. The hop bomb
Supermarket buy: Jaipur (Waitrose, £2.40). Thornbridge‘s centrifuge-filtered, bottled beers retain an unusual amount of flavour. None less than this 5.9% beauty, with its tropical mango / pineapple flavours, and its forcefully spicy, bitter finish.
Look out for: Magic Rock’s Stuart Ross loves Port Brewing‘s Mongo IPA, but other panellists shouted for his own Human Cannonball, a 9.2% double IPA loaded with American hops. “A true taste of the west coast of America, brewed in Huddersfield,” explains Brown.
7. The stout
Supermarket buy: March of the Penguins (Tesco, £1.89). Given a zingy edge by the unusual addition of orange zest, this smooth William Brothers‘ brew (all roasted malt and tiramisu flavours) is an interesting variation. For a sterner stout, try Meantime‘s London (Waitrose, £1.89).
Look out for: Fiona Beckett flags up Bristol Beer Factory‘s Christmas stout collection; while Heyes recommends Mikkeller‘s modern, coffee-amped classic, Beer Geek Breakfast, and Kernel’s Export Stout 1890: “It brims with roast malt complexity and [has] the texture of melting chocolate.” Too trendy? Then go for Acorn‘s Gorlovka. “A proper drink that’ll put hairs on thi chest,” assures Brown, who was also brewed – sorry, born – in Barnsley.
8. The seasonal Christmas tipple
Supermarket buy: Meantime Chocolate (Waitrose, £1.79). A remarkable porter, boasting a distinct, upfront milk chocolate flavour.
Look out for: Heyes loves De Dolle‘s Still Nacht (a strong Belgian ale, “full of sugar and spice … “) and Coniston Brewing‘s No 9 barley wine: “Fantastically complex, with an almost cognac quality. A Christmas corker.” Brown will be savouring “one of the best beers in the world”, St Bernardus‘s Christmas Ale, while Beckett suggests pairing JW Lees‘ Harvest Ale with your stilton: “It’s the beer world’s equivalent of port.”
9. Something you haven’t tried before
Supermarket buy: St Peter’s The Saints (Waitrose, £2.35). Peat-kilned malt and the addition of St George Distillery whisky give this beer a challenging smoky, tarry character. But it grows on you. Honest.
Look out for: Many predict that spontaneously fermented “sours”, in the Belgian lambic style, will be big in 2013. Hayes recommendsTimmermans Lambicus Blanche, which is mixed with wheat beer, as a “good starter”. Also, says Beckett, look out for “weird, wonderful” beers from Somerset’s Wild Beer Co. She loves its Epic saison – another spicy, fruity, broad-church Belgian beer style, that craft brewers are currently busy reinventing. Saisons pair particularly well with turkey.
10. The fruit beer
Supermarket buy: Cain’s Fine Raisin (Asda, £1.79). The nursery slopes of fruit beers, but that’s no bad thing. A Liverpool bitter with ripasso dried fruit notes.
Look out for: “Liefmans‘ Cuvee Brut,” says Heyes, “a cherry beer which goes easy on the sweetness.” Brown chooses Melville’s Raspberry Craft Lager, from Innis & Gunn: “Should be a horrible tasteless joke. Instead, is a rather wonderful beer that defies cynics like me.” McVeigh picks Mort Subite Kriek: “How can you not like an authentic Belgian lambic called Sudden Death?”
11. The emergency purchase
Supermarket buy: Budvar (Various, approx. £1.60). Still a tasty corner shop treat, thanks to those vibrantly grassy, herbal Saaz hops.
Look out for: Stick to German imports, advises Heyes, Erdinger specifically, and, “you probably won’t go far wrong.” Elsewhere, there are shouts for Guinness Export Stout, McEwan’s Export and, turning the tables slightly, Aldi. Brown: “Their beers are much better than you think. If I was desperate, I’d drink their Shipsterns bitter without complaint.”
12. The hangover beer
Supermarket buy: Brakspear Oxford Gold (Sainsbury, £1.99). Crisp, refreshing, sweetish pale ale that will ease you gently back into a party mood.
Look out for: Brown opts for Redemption‘s Trinity: “Only 3%, which is the reason hungover or sensible people first try it. They stick to it because, even at 3%, it’s tastier than anything else at the bar.” McVeigh finds similar solace in Sambrook‘s Wandle: “The reassuring quality pint one needs … when the world feels like it is about to end.”
Year Without Beer
Firstly, I would like to say a BIG thank you to all who have supported me on my year without beer.
The Olympics may be over, but my Year Without Beer isn’t! I am spending all 366 days of this leap year alcohol free in an attempt to raise money for 2 charities that are both very close to my heart.
If giving up all alcohol for a year isn’t enough of a challenge to make you dig deep and show your support, I’ve also completed a challenge to run 500 miles! As part of my running challenge I have completed a quarter marathon, a 10 mile road race (Great South Run) and an 8 mile off road challenge (The Grim Original).
If you want to show some love them please donate to my year without beer and give your support to one of these fantastic causes:
- To donate to Cancer Research UK please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB66 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB66 £5″ will donate £5.
- To donate to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust please click here to visit my just giving page or donate by text – send AYWB55 and the amount to 70070. For example, texting “AYWB55 £5″ will donate £5.